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David C. Dougherty. Shouting Down the Silence: A Biography of Stanley Elkin.

David C. Dougherty. Shouting Down the Silence: A Biography of Stanley Elkin. Univ. of Illinois Press, 2010. 296 pp. Cloth: $40.00.

The late Stanley Elkin has a well-deserved reputation as a linguistic showman with an almost Shakespearean gift for high-flown diction, but to truly appreciate his accomplishments it helps to see him on the ground. Shouting Down the Silence is particularly good at delineating the mundanity that's required when forging a living as an experimental artist. As in Flaubert's famous dictum, Elkin strove to maintain a regular, orderly life so he could be violent and original in his work. In addition to being one of the most adventurous writers of his time, he was a career teacher and family man who was born where the avant-gardes usually wind up, New York, but moved to the Midwest and developed strong St. Louis ties. Dougherty describes various unsuccessful attempts to break into the lucrative realm of moviemaking, recurring conflicts with school administrators over salary, the difficulties of child rearing, and the increasingly complicated logistics of life with progressively worsening multiple sclerosis. Money is a main theme, which is particularly appropriate given that Elkin was nearly alone among literary writers in the high degree of focus he applied to the world of employment. His narrators revel in the detailed duties of job performance, and for all the verbal pyrotechnics that they display, socioeconomic realities are never far from their minds. Elkin may have been influenced in this by his admiration for his father, an energetic and charismatic salesman with a sharp eye for the bottom line. Not only did he inspire many of the robust figures in Elkin's books, his earnings (in the form of a timely loan) gave Elkin the bit of freedom he needed to launch his prose into the empyrean. Dougherty's own prose can't quite reach such lofty spheres, of course, but he's to be thanked for giving us a view of them.
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Author:Crossley, James
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2010
Words:368
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